Belgium’s Thierry Neuville will take a 20-second lead into the final day of Coffs Harbour’s Rally Australia but will proceed with caution after watching his rivals stumble.
Neuville surged to the front in the World Rally Championship season finale on Saturday morning thanks to some superb driving on the NSW north coast forestry roads.
He added one second to his advantage over Jari-Matti Latvala on Saturday night’s street-based Super Special Stage on the foreshore.
But he also benefited from the retirement of Hyundai teammate Andreas Mikkelsen, who suffered a double puncture after hitting a bank to give up his own 20-second lead after day one.
Third-placed Kris Meeke (suspension) was also forced to retire on an eventful day two that featured a cancelled stage because of a damaged bridge, another car crashing into a creek and two drivers being fined for speeding between stages.
Neuville avoided a scare of his own on Saturday, addressing gear box problems that had hampered him earlier in the day.
However, with rain forecast on Sunday, Neuville isn’t taking anything for granted on the five-stage, 65km journey left between him and the title.
“The afternoon went more to plan and we could build up a reasonably good gap,” he said.
“There is no such thing as a comfortable lead, though, and with the weather still looking like it could play a part, we will have a challenge on our hands on the final morning.”
Ott Tanak is third outright, 40.6s off Neuville and all but conceding a win is off the table.
“We are still not there to fight for the victory; we don’t have enough speed,” the Estonian said.
M-Sport’s Sebastien Ogier, sitting sixth, is assured of his fifth world title regardless of Sunday’s outcome.
Meanwhile Coffs Harbour product Nathan Quinn looks set to claim his maiden Australian Rally Championship title.
Quinn holds a lead of more than nine minutes after defending champion Molly Taylor struck engine trouble late on Saturday.